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Tim and Jack Ryan
Name: Tim and Jack Ryan

Fathers and Sons

It’s not unusual for fathers and sons to be involved in Scouting together, but the Scouting story of me and my son Jack doesn't follow the usual path.

I was a Scout in Missouri in the 1970s, where I earned the Eagle rank and became an Ordeal member of the Order of the Arrow in Troop 93, Milan, Missouri, part of the Great Rivers Council.  Like a lot of young men, I drifted away from Scouting as I got deeper into high school, college and a career in journalism.

Fast forward to the fall of 2000, when my son Jack was in the 2nd grade at Century Elementary School in Aurora. By now, Jack was 7 years old and a second grader, but it was also obvious by then that he was profoundly autistic. We had begun to notice this before Jack's 2nd birthday that he often didn't respond to his name and wasn't developing language like typical children do.

Exposing Jack to Scouting was never part of a grand plan. I had very warm feelings for my time in the Scouts as a youth, but the years from the time we learned Jack was autistic (1994) until he started in Cub Scouts (2000) were a whirlwind of therapies and other efforts to address the autism that had become the central feature of our lives.

When Jack's friend Colin invited him to Cub Scouts, we didn't really know if it would work. The defining characteristic of autism is difficulty with social situations, especially working and playing with others. Jack had and still has a tough time sustaining a conversation, and while adults who understand the condition will tolerate that and work around it, school age peers often give up and simply talk to someone else.

But we started going to meetings with Pack 319 and Jack clearly enjoyed and looked forward to the activities. For two years in that pack and another two years at Pack 646 (when we moved to a new neighborhood) Jack was an extremely busy Cub Scout who earned the Arrow of Light as well as the Twentier award for earning 20 Webelos activity pins.

When we moved to Pack 646, I decided to become involved in Scouting myself as an adult volunteer, first as a Webelos den leader, then as a committee chairman for Troop 171 and finally as the chapter adviser for the Medicine Pipe Chapter of  the Order of the Arrow.

As Jack got older, he became more and more interested in Scout activities. Although he needed some support with logistics, Jack is a physically very strong and healthy young man, and enjoyed earning a long list of merit badges including Swimming, Lifesaving, Camping and many others.

As a Scout leader, I’ve seen Scouts who made it to Eagle and others who lost interest or ran out of time.  Jack earned his Eagle for a simple reason: It was very important to Jack that he become an Eagle Scout.

Jack accomplished a lot in Boy Scouts in addition to the Eagle rank. He earned the Ad Altare Dei Catholic religious medal and became an Ordeal, then a Brotherhood and soon to be a Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow.

More importantly than that, though, was the opportunity Jack and I had to spend time together as a father and son, enjoying the Scouting program like any father and son. We hiked the Colorado Rockies in Camp Tahosa's Alpine Adventure program, canoed through the Canadian border in the Boundary Waters region and spent a week at the National Order of the Arrow Conference at Michigan State.

Although many more challenges lay ahead for Jack, I am as proud of him as any father is of any son, and I am deeply grateful to the Boy Scouts of America and the Scouting movement for the support and encouragement they have offered both of us.

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